Servant Leadership
Definition and History

If you’ve been going through any sort of leadership training you’ve probably heard the buzzword ‘servant leadership’ thrown around quite a bit. It’s started to become quite popular, but not everyone understands what it means. If you’re looking to become a better leader for your team, however, it’s important to learn more about servant leadership and the ways that you can employ this skill for yourself. Your team deserves the best and you can provide it for them, if you’re conscious about what you’re doing.

What is Servant Leadership?

Servant leadership is, to put it in the simplest of terms, putting your team before yourself. It means making sure that you focus on the things that other people need before you worry about the things that you need. First touted in 1970 by Robert K. Greenleaf, servant leadership has continued to draw attention and gain traction throughout recent years as more and more businesses seek opportunities to empower their employees, rather than just seeking out the bottom line. But there’s more to servant leadership than simply letting your employees get by with anything and everything.

The true depth of this type of leadership is in empowering people and understanding that they each have their own needs, desires and goals in business and life. While it’s often discussed as a leadership technique, it’s more of a behavior style, because it refers to the way that you interact with your employees. Instead of focusing simply on leading them, you’re focusing on teaching and guiding them, which is a healthier and more productive way of bringing about the changes and improvements you want in your business.

Why Should You Use Servant Leadership in Your Business?

Now, you may be looking at this and wondering just what the big deal is. After all, why would it matter how you care for your team? Maybe your style of leadership has always worked well enough and you’re not sure you want to change it. But there are plenty of things about leadership that you need to know and there are plenty of ways that you can see enormous returns and benefits by going about implementing servant leadership in your business. We’ll take a closer look at just what some of these benefits are and how they can help your bottom line.

Man moving Tasks on a Gantt Chart Instagantt

Encourage and Build Employees Up

One of the biggest things you’re going to achieve through servant leadership is that you will be helping to build up your employees. You will be showing them how to become their best selves and how to continue to grow and develop the skills that they have. You will be encouraging them to continue to improve at every turn, which will help them to be better people in general and better employees for you. All of this will allow you to create a better business overall.

Create a Sense of Community

By fostering this type of leadership you are also encouraging your employees to become a more cohesive unit and a stronger group. You will be encouraging them to work well together, to become closer as a team and even to develop friendships and stronger working relationships as well. You want to make sure that you have a business that works as a team and by being a part of that team and encouraging inclusion and a friendly atmosphere you will be making a huge difference and large strides toward that goal.

Encourage Collaborative Decision-Making

When you’re a servant leader you’re not stepping up and doing everything yourself. Instead, you’re reaching out to every member of your team to see what it is that they think you should do. You’re reaching out to each person and asking them for insight or recommendation. As a result, you’re making those people feel more empowered about their position within the company and you’re setting your business up for more success because those people are willing and able to speak out and be heard. This can help your business to make the best possible decisions.

You Relate Better to Your Employees

When you’re employing this type of leadership style you’re also going to be relating better to your employees. You’re going to be able to see things from their point of view and you’ll be able to reach out to them in new ways. You will be able to understand how to look at something from a new perspective or why one perspective might cause an employee to act in a specific way. All of these things are going to make it easier for you to create a strong team and to make sure that everyone involved in your business feels as though you care about them as a person.

Improve Your Business

When you treat your employees as individuals and you show that you genuinely care about them in that way you are going to help improve the business that you are running as well. You will be working with your employees and showing them that they as individuals are important to you. This makes them think of you less as just a boss and more as a peer, mentor or even friend. As a result, they are more likely to give you the best that they can, which will help you to improve your business overall, creating a stronger team and a stronger outlook toward your goals.

You Learn From Your Employees

You can learn a great deal from your employees, if you’re willing to listen to them and sit back and let them take charge once in a while. You can help them, but they can also help you. As you learn more about their way of viewing things you can be introduced to entirely different ideas and thoughts that you may never have considered before. This can help you to become more successful and to start recognizing what it is that your employees and your customers are looking for.

You Focus on Results

A servant leader isn’t looking to get all of the glory and to get all of the acclaim. They’re not looking to get that next promotion or a raise or the corner office. Instead, they’re looking at the more important things, which are the way the employees feel within the company and the way that the business performs overall. The benefits that come to a servant leader personally may be a perk or a benefit as well, but those are not the reasons that they do what they do.

Where Servant Leadership May Not Stack Up

Now, as with anything, there are a few situations where you might struggle with this type of leadership. There are times when it’s not the best way to go about leading your team or when it’s just not a good fit for the business that you run. In these cases, it’s a good idea to look at other types of leadership and see where you can make the best impact for everyone involved. This includes yourself and the rest of the members of your team.

Businesses with a High Level of Structure

If you work in a business that uses a great deal of structure and is constantly focused on making the best from the top down then servant leadership may not be the best way for you. Servant leadership focuses on empowering all of the members of the team to be a part of the decision making process and if that’s not possible for your team then it’s best to employ a different strategy entirely. You want to make sure that you aren’t giving your employees the idea that they can have more control than they actually can.

If You Haven’t Started that Way

Businesses that didn’t start with servant leadership can get there, it’s just going to be more difficult. You’ll need to work harder to convince your team that you are interested in them and what they have to say. Teaching them more about servant leadership and then drawing them into the idea is going to take more work, but you absolutely can accomplish it. Just know that it’s not all going to happen at once or overnight. It’s going to take a lot of dedication to get where you want to be.

You Don’t Have Time to Make Decisions

If you’re using a servant leadership model it means that you’re going to be spending more time discussing different things that you’re doing within the company. If you don’t have the time to spend on the types of discussions that this would require it’s not going to be a good leadership model for you. Making decisions when you are the only one in charge can be simple. You make the decision that you need to and you immediately implement it. When you’re attempting to use servant leadership, however, you’ll need to slow the process down.

How Servant Leadership Works

Servant leadership works by starting with you. It’s entirely on you to put yourself forward and make the changes necessary to become this type of leader. Instead of learning general skills, however, you’re going to be developing some personal skills that will be applied to leadership and business. These are skills you likely already have to some extent, but you may not have thought about employing them in your place of business. That’s one reason it’s so important to review what we’re going to talk about here and start looking for ways to improve in these areas.

Listen – One of the first things that you’ll need to learn how to do effectively is listen. As a leader you already have some skills in this area and some understanding of how to listen to your employees and coworkers. However, listening is a skill that many people believe they know how to do but very few can do properly. The key is to listen without interruption, without distraction and with your full attention and focus on the person talking. It’s also about providing feedback on what the person said, and expressing genuine interest in listening and conversing with them.

Empathize – When you are empathetic you are searching for a better understanding of why someone feels the way that they do and why they act the way that they do. You are looking into their intention and their view on an issue before you react to what they have done. By doing this you may see that something you thought was a ridiculous mistake was a difference in perception of the goal. By empathizing you can start to make improvements in the business by helping employees to see the perspective that you want them to. You can also learn to view situations through their perspective to come to different conclusions.

Heal – You are the leader of your business and you must seek to improve the overall health and wellness of the people that you are leading. This doesn’t mean that you act as a doctor or mental health professional in any way. Rather, it means that you are providing support so that they can feel healthy and safe in their workplace. This means looking for ways to promote their knowledge, to provide the resources they need and to ensure the workplace is overall healthy and inclusive for everyone who works with your company.

Self-Aware – Being able to look at what your employees need and expect from you is one aspect of servant leadership, but it’s also important to know just what you are already doing. Being self-aware means understanding who you are and how you represent yourself to the people around you. You want to make sure that everything you do and every form of communication or interaction you have with your employees is in line with the values you have for yourself and your business. Learning more about how to manage your emotions, how you come across to others, what your strengths are and what your weaknesses are will make a huge difference for you in this regard.

Persuade – The key to servant leadership is getting people to want to do certain things related to your business. You’re not trying to bully or argue or order them into doing the things you want them to do. Rather, you want to persuade them why this way is the best. But you’re also leaving opportunities open and available for others to persuade you. The key to this type of leadership is that everyone can communicate and interact together and everyone comes to a consensus about the best course of action.
Conceptualize – You need to have a way to set goals and plans for your business and everyone involved in it. Conceptualizing means that you’re going to set those goals and mission statements and you’re going to decide just how everyone involved is going to stay involved. You want to make sure that you have  plan to achieve that bigger goal or ultimate goal that your company has, whether you’re somewhere in the middle of the leadership process or you’re the one in charge of everything.

Foresee – Okay, so you can’t see everything that’s going to happen before it happens, but you can look at the past and make decisions that help you to learn and grow. You can recognize past successes and failures and you can do this through the use of different tools, including Gantt charts and software. These will help you to identify problems before they happen because you already know how you handled the situation the first time around. You’ll also be able to make more positive decisions moving forward because you can tell what will happen.

Steward – You need to be willing and able to take responsibility for everything that your team does. That means looking closer at what your business is all about and deciding what you will allow your team to do and what you won’t. If you see something that violates your goals, your values or anything related to your business then it’s time to cut those people out of your business and move forward. You don’t want to find yourself taking the blame for something that you don’t condone and if you aren’t careful to be a good steward that’s exactly what could happen.

Commit – You want to be committed to developing your team in the best way possible. You want to be sure that everyone you hire and everyone you foster within your company is becoming the best version of themselves and that’s possible, if you are committed to working with them and drawing out their strengths. You will want to help them do their jobs well, build up the things they are good at and work on the things that they aren’t so that they can help to develop and build the business into what you want it to be.

Who Should Employ This Strategy?

Who exactly should be working on this type of strategy? Who should be implementing it and putting it into practice over time? Well, the short answer is that everyone should be doing it. You want to make sure that you’re getting the best out of everyone involved in your business, and that means that everyone who is involved should be using a servant leadership mindset. This is going to help your team to grow and develop in new and positive ways. It’s also going to help your business to thrive.

Most people assume that only those in leadership roles should be engaging in this type of leadership style, but that’s not the case. Everyone who is involved in the company should engage in this way and seek to better develop the way that they interact with others. If only the current leadership team is involved in building and growing this form of leadership it’s going to result in some improvements, but it’s not going to achieve as much as you might expect, which could lead you to give up on the process far too early.

By encouraging everyone within your team and your company to work with a servant leadership mindset you will be encouraging all of them to focus on caring for each other and the mission as a whole rather than focusing only on their success. This type of leadership style can make a big difference in the way a business runs and the more people who are encouraged to participate as a group rather than as individuals the better it will go. You might even be surprised just how much of an impact even base level employees can have on the way the business runs.


If you’re looking to make a big difference in your team and to make sure that your team is making a big difference in your business, the first thing to do is to start modeling a servant leadership mindset. Show your team that you are interested in them as people and that you are focused on helping them to get the kind of support that they need. Show them that you are a growth-minded individual rather than being a results-oriented individual and you’ll start to see dramatic changes to the way they work within the team.
Servant leadership will allow you to completely change the way that your employees and team members interact with one another. And it’s going to change the way that those employees interact with people outside of your organization as well. It may seem strange that treating your employees more like individuals and less like employees would help to improve your bottom line, but the research shows this to be the case. By helping your employees and by treating them the way you would want to treat a friend, you can make a big difference (in a positive way) in all areas of your business.

Want to discover more?

Try Instagantt  for free for your remote team
Get started for free